Monday, October 09, 2006

Days of Heaven


Dir: Terrence Malick (Badlands; The Thin Red Line; The New World)

There are some films that one is too young to understand. When I first saw this film, who knows how many years ago, it left no real impression. I was learning film, and Malick was a name to explore, move on to the next one. But now, with the moderate amount of life experience that I can now claim, Days of Heaven opens like a flower, brilliant and filling all the senses, a near perfect spectacle and perhaps the most beautifully shot film I have ever seen. This time, there was a mark.

The minimalism of the dialogue and plot mask fathoms of wisdom and insight in the story. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams are migrant farm workers, who show up at Sam Shepard's farm with young Linda, Gere's sister, in tow. They hatch a scheme, where Adams will marry Shepard in order that the secret couple might live off of his money. But the heart is fickle, Adams is torn between the two, and the whole plot unravels, taking the characters with them. Highly allegorical, the plot would make a fine novel, dwelling on the interior psychology of the characters.

But Malick has no lofty chapters to expose those feelings. He has his camera. And to what ends does he use it. I have never, hands down, in my life seen a film with more beautiful shots of the sky. Every scene seems to be filmed at that exact three minute window near the dusk when the colors of the sunset are most vibrant. The Texas panhandle's infintie horizon features giant panorama's of color, cloud, and light. The characters live their lives under the umbrella of the atmosphere, a bid to the insignificance of any one story and yet the universality of it at the same time. Nature abound in the film, animals and vegetation forever the backdrop for the actions of the characters, themselves not as impervious as they think from the instinctual and predetermined motivations of the beasts and the plants.

Of particular interest is Malick's narrator, the young Linda Manz who exudes complete authenticity as the world wise young girl. Her dialogue is uncannily right, both for her character and for the contemplative tone of the film. Simple yet profound, plain yet poetic, she tells us all we need to know about the characters. As their actions unfold, Malick supplements her narration with plenty of symbolism, so that the meaning of the film richly unfolds in suprising and compelling ways.

Malick's work here was quite simply awesome. It was like going to an art mueseum. Truly beautiful and moving. A tremendous experience, to be approached with appropriate sensitivity, pantience, and enough taste to meet the skills of the filmmaker.